Mental Illness and the Death Penalty


I choice to talk about mental illness and the death penalty,  because I think we do not talk enough of the people with mental illness who are executed,or in jail. Can a person with schizophrenia, she really belong in a jail, in the death row? that person would it not be better surrounded in a psychiatric hospital? I do not excuse the crimes they committed, but if these people had no psychological problems would they have committed these crimes? what percentage of those without mental illness have committed these same crimes ?
I read  different media, I have collected those who seemed the most interesting

Mental illness is defined as “Any of various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual’s normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning, and caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors, such as infection or head trauma.”

  • Since 1983, over 60 people with mental illness or retardation have been executed in the United States.
  • It is conservatively estimated that 5-10% of death row inmates suffer from serious mental illness.
  • Research has shown that nearly all Death Row inmates suffer from brain damage due to illness or trauma, while a vast number have also experienced histories of severe physical and/or sexual abuse.
  • Mental illness is not only a problem on Death Row. In 1998, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 283,000 mentally ill individuals were incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons.
  • Legislation has been passed barring the execution of juvenile or mentally retarded individuals. While it is unconstitutional to execute the insane, those suffering from other or lesser mental illnesses are insufficiently protected under the law.

Mental Illness and the Death Penalty
May 5, 2009  read the files

From Amnesty International

The execution of those with mental illness or “the insane” is clearly prohibited by international law. Virtually every country in the world prohibits the execution of people with mental illness.


Human Rights Watch. “Ill-Equipped: U.S. Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness.” Sept. 2003.
Detailed report with unique sections dedicated to legal standards and policies, self-injurious behavior, inadequate mental health care in prisons, the effects of solitary segregation on mentally ill prisoners, mental illness in female prisoners, and coping difficulties of mentally ill inmates. Also includes case studies and recommendations to Congress, public officials, community leaders, prison staff, and the general public.

Other Articles

American Civil Liberties Union. “Mental Illness and the Death Penalty in the United States.” May 2009 Article explains shortcomings of current legislation, provides statistics, and includes numerous case summaries.
Amnesty International. “The Death Penalty Disregards Mental Illness.”Brief statement and fact sheet against executions of the mentally ill. Provides various excerpts of international resolutions, showing the United Nations’ increasingly grave and specific standpoint on the issue.
Amnesty International. “USA: New report on execution of mentally ill prisoners.” 31 Jan. 2006.An Amnesty U.K. article criticizing the United States’ exceptionally high rates of mentally ill executions and Death Row inmates as well as the inconsistency of new legislation banning executions of juveniles and the mentally retarded but not of the mentally ill. Includes a partial list of executed prisoners and descriptions of their particular conditions.
Drew, Kevin. “Executed mentally ill inmate heard voices until end.” CNN. 6 Jan. 2004.Article in response to the 2004 execution of paranoid schizophrenic Charles Singleton, whose competency was controversially restored by medication, thus rendering him eligible for execution.
Liptak, Adam. “State Can Make Inmate Sane Enough to Execute.” 11 Feb. 2003.Article discussing the federal appeals court ruling which allowed Arkansas to medicate Charles Singleton in order to make him eligible for execution. Questions the logic and ethics of whether the state can treat someone for the ultimate purpose of executing him.
Malone, Dan. “Cruel and Inhumane: Executing the Mentally Ill.” Amnesty Magazine. Fall 2005.Presents the argument that, in light of recent legislation barring executions of juvenile or mentally retarded inmates, similar policies must be applied to the mentally ill, at least in cases where the actions and thought-processes of a mentally ill defendant resemble those of a juvenile or one who is mentally retarded. Includes responses to arguments which claim that current laws are sufficient for protection of the mentally ill. Concludes that “A society that denies mental health care to those who need it the most and then subsequently executes them is cruel and inhumane at its very core.”
Mansnerus, Laura. “Damaged Brains and the Death Penalty.” New York Times. 21 July 2001.Notes an inverse relationship between the “grisliness” of a crime and the mental health of its perpetrator. Also cites research showing the frequency of head and brain trauma among Death Row inmates. Explains that many inmates minimize or deny their psychiatric conditions during trial, “figuring that it [is] better to be bad than crazy.”

Five Excellent Studies and Reports Regarding Mental Illness and the Death Penalty (2011)

1.  Double Tragedies: Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty For People with Severe Mental Illness (available for download; 37 pages) by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights;

2.  Position Statement of the Mental Health America;

3.  Mental Illness and the Death Penalty in North Carolina: a Diagnostic Approach (available for download; 78 pages) by the Charlotte Law School;

4. Mental Illness and the Death Penalty (available for download, 8 pages) by the American Civil Liberties Union; and

5. Task Force Report on Mental Disability and the Death Penalty (available for download, 13 pages), by multi-disciplined task force and published by the APA.

Case Summaries

Scott Panetti
Amnesty International. “‘Where is the compassion?’: The imminent execution of Scott Panetti, mentally ill offender.” 2004.
Larry Robison
Amnesty International. “Time for humanitarian intervention: The imminent execution of Larry Robison.” 1999.
Charles Singleton
Stone, Alan A., M.D. “Condemned Prisoner Treated and Executed.” Psychiatric Times. Mar. 2004.

Other Resources

Ford v. Wainwright, No. 477 U.S. 399 (1986)
Supreme Court case which banned executions of the insane. Though the legislation is progressive, it is criticized for being too superficial–for defining insanity too loosely, leaving determination up to each individual state, and in general being insufficiently applicable.
International Justice Project — Mental Illness
Page dedicated to the problem of mental illness on Death Row. Includes past and current case summaries as well as legislative briefs.
National Alliance on Mental Illness — By Illness
List of mental illnesses with links to further resources and information regarding each.


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